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Arsenic Speciation

Arsenic is a metalloid whose compounds (species) exhibit significantly different levels of toxicity, e.g. inorganic arsenic is classified as a class 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer whereas organoarsenicals in foodstuffs are thought to be less toxic.

Humans can be exposed to arsenic through their diet, the environment and from occupational sources.

Occupational exposure to inorganic arsenic may occur in several industries: refining or smelting of metal ores, microelectronics, pesticide manufacture or application, semiconductor manufacturing, glass production, wood preservation, joinery, battery manufacturing, and working in power plants that burn arsenic-rich coal.  It is also possible that workers in waste management and landfill sites may be exposed to arsenic.

HSE Science and Research Centre offers biological monitoring for five arsenic species in a urine sample. These five species allow both dietary and occupational exposure to be assessed. Total arsenic analysis cannot differentiate between non-toxic dietary arsenic and the toxic inorganic arsenic.

Chromatogram showing how the individual species of arsenic in urine samples are separated and measured.

The major route of excretion for arsenic in the body is by urine and following an exposure most arsenic is excreted within 48 hours. Samples should be taken post-shift towards the end of the working week. Sampling should reflect normal working practice.

HSE scientists will help interpret results from samples that we have analysed where required. We have also established background levels of each of the five arsenic species in unexposed people.

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